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FDA Threatens to Ban E-Cigarettes If Teenagers Keep Using Them

The agency is willing to sacrifice the lives of adult smokers in the name of preventing adolescent vaping.

FDAFDADeclaring that "youth use of e-cigarettes is reaching epidemic proportions," the Food and Drug Administration today threatened to remove vaping products from the market unless their manufacturers come up with satisfactory plans to prevent underage consumption. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledged that the demand conflicts with efforts to promote vaping as a harm-reducing alternative to smoking. "Inevitably what we are going to have to contemplate are actions that may narrow the off-ramp for adults who see e-cigarettes as a viable alternative to combustible tobacco in order to close the on-ramp for kids," he told reporters. "It's an unfortunate tradeoff."

That tradeoff is not just unfortunate; it is morally unacceptable and scientifically suspect. Gottlieb is talking about reneging on the FDA's four-year extension of the deadline for seeking regulatory approval to continue selling e-cigarettes, which would wreak havoc with a market that he concedes has great potential for reducing smoking-related disease and death. Short of that, he suggests the FDA might force companies to stop offering e-liquid flavors that appeal to minors, which are an important factor in quit attempts by adult smokers. The premise of such threats is that the interests of adults who might want to switch from smoking to a far less hazardous form of nicotine consumption should be sacrificed for the sake of curtailing e-cigarette use by minors, which is already illegal.

The FDA says it has issued "more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers" as a result of "a large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors." But it also sent letters to five leading manufacturers of "electronic nicotine delivery systems" (ENDS), insisting that they do more to keep their products away from teenagers. The FDA is demanding what Gottlieb describes as "plans to immediately and substantially reverse" the "clear and present danger" of adolescent vaping.

The FDA's suggestions include rigorous age verification procedures for online direct sales (which Juul, the market leader, says it already has) and "discontinuing sales to retail establishments that have been subject to an FDA civil monetary penalty for sale of tobacco products to minors within the prior 12 months." But the agency also thinks ENDS makers should consider "revising your current marketing practices to help prevent use by minors" and "removing flavored products from the market until those products can be reviewed by FDA" as part of the pre-market approval process. While "Juul Labs will work proactively with FDA in response to its request," a company spokesperson says, "appropriate flavors play an important role in helping adult smokers switch." More generally, the FDA wants Juul and the other companies to contemplate "the particular youth appeal of their products," which involves features, such as style and convenience, that adults also happen to like.

Those broader recommendations would constrain the ability of e-cigarette companies to reach adult smokers and make ENDS less appealing to them. The upshot could be less switching and therefore more smoking-related deaths.

On the other side of the public health ledger, there is little reason to think that restricting information about ENDS, making them less cool, or banning e-liquid flavors would reduce morbidity and mortality among today's adolescents, either now or in the future. The FDA is alarmed that, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), "more than 2 million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2017." But that number includes respondents who reported vaping at all during the previous month, even just once. The number of regular users is much smaller, and almost all of them are current or former smokers. The "epidemic" perceived by the FDA is mainly an epidemic of e-cigarette experimentation, and even that trend seems to have reversed, judging from the latest NYTS results.

To the extent that teenagers who otherwise would be smoking are vaping instead, that is an unambiguous gain in public health terms, since the latter habit is much less dangerous. Despite the constant warnings that increased experimentation with e-cigarettes would lead to more smoking, consumption of conventional cigarettes by teenagers stubbornly continues to decline, reaching a record low last year in the Monitoring the Future Study, which began in 1975. According to the NYTS, the incidence of past-month smoking among high school students fell from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 7.6 percent in 2017.

The ability of manufacturers to prevent underage consumption is, in any case, pretty limited. As long as some retailers are careless, some adults are willing to buy e-cigarettes on behalf of minors, and some teenagers manage to swipe them from parents or older siblings, there will be leakage from the adult market. If the FDA sees continued underage use as an argument for banning e-cigarettes, the industry is doomed, even though it offers what the agency recognizes as "an alternative for adult smokers who still seek access to satisfying levels of nicotine, but without all of the harmful effects that come from combustion."

The federal government is threatening to eliminate that alternative even while tolerating conventional cigarettes, which are far more hazardous and also end up in the mouths of people who are not old enough to buy them legally. If underage consumption does not justify a ban on tobacco cigarettes (and I don't think it does), it cannot possibly justify a ban on competing products that are much safer.

Gottlieb is remarkably cavalier about throwing adult smokers under the bus in the name of preventing adolescents from experimenting with e-cigarettes. "In enabling a path for e-cigarettes to offer a potentially lower risk alternative for adult smokers," he says, "we won't allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue, even if it means putting limits in place that reduce adult uptake of these products." Gottlieb would be on much firmer ethical ground if he took the opposite position: In trying to stop teenagers from vaping, we won't deny adult smokers access to products that could save their lives.

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  • Echospinner||

    Democrats threaten to ban making out if teenagers keep doing it.

  • Juice||

    It's those explicit lyrics, I tell you.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Isn't Scott Gottlieb a Republican?

  • Marc St. Stephen||

    I don't know what the fuck he is, but our "deregulatory" President should be catching hell for not reigning in this meddling motherfucker.

  • Homple||

    Reason will bitch if the government bans teenagers from shoving m80 firecrackers up their asses and lighting the fuse.

  • NoVaNick||

    making out is now considered rape according to the prog womynz

  • Country Music Jesus||

    Banning and regulating things for the sake of dictating social behavior are typically a Republican thing. Banning and regulating things of the sake of dictating economic behavior are typically a Democrat thing. Gottlieb is just a Republican doing Republican things.

  • Juice||

    "youth use of e-cigarettes is reaching epidemic proportions"

    The FDA would rather teenagers start smoking filterless Camels and Lucky Strikes.

  • Ska||

    Ah, nonfiltered camels were my first smoke.

  • Juice||

    Mine were a pack of Parliaments that my Dad got as a free sample in the mail but he threw them in the trash. Bingo! I was 10 or 11. After that I would sneak one or two of his Barclays here and there. I just realized, shit, it used to be legal to send cigs through the mail. Is it illegal now? I don't know, but probably. Everything else is.

  • NoVaNick||

    I used to get free Camels in the occasionally about 10 or 15 years ago. Pretty sure it has not been legal since FDA regulation began in 2009.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Or weed, or meth....

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "It's an unfortunate tradeoff."

    "BUT A SACRIFICE I'M WILLING TO MAKE FOR YOU."

  • Shirley Knott||

    More like "it's a sacrifice I'm willing to see you make to scratch my power itch."
    Gottlieb isn't sacrificing squat, nor is he likely to.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    No one has yet proven why nicotine is more problematic than say caffeine?

    And while I wouldn't necessarily want my teenager vaping - they're both low level stimulants so I see no reason one is illegal and another is not.

    It seems solely based upon 'smokers are bad' and this is too much like smoking even though it's not.

  • Juice||

    No one has yet proven why nicotine is more problematic than say caffeine?

    It's extremely addictive. Caffeine is addictive, but it's just not in the same league as nicotine. Granted I'm drinking a cup of coffee at my desk as I type this and I quit smoking years ago (for the Xth time, but this time is for good!)

  • NoVaNick||

    I know plenty of people who become nearly rabid before they have their morning coffee. If that isn't addiction, I don't know what is. Perhaps if I am forced into quitting nicotine, I will be like that too.

  • Juice||

    I've quit nicotine several times and it's been years since I've smoked a cigarette. It is indeed a bitch and a half. It takes lots of time and lots of discipline and you have to want to quit really bad. Caffeine is a different story altogether. You go through some headaches and feeling a bit shitty for a few days and then it's over. Maybe it's just me but I don't get that irritable if I don't have coffee. It's more of a headache thing. Actually if I have too much coffee and then drive somewhere around here, I want to kill people, but maybe that's not the coffee.

  • perlchpr||

    See, I've had just the opposite experience. I've been a smoker twice, with about a 15 year hiatus in the middle, and quit again for about 6 months now, for about 5 years the first time, and 2 years this second time. And both times, when I decided to quit, I just did it, and had no troubles. Heck, the first time I quit, I did it on accident. I ran out of cigarettes, and... never got around to getting more. After about a week, I said to myself, "I guess I might as well just stop altogether."

    Both times, I had the habit to deal with a job I hated. And both times, I no longer had the job when I quit smoking. So I suspect that's a factor too.

    OTOH, the times I've quit caffeine have been really appallingly unpleasant.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its unconstitutional to ban any product or service.

  • Juice||

    Even a cross-border taxi service?

  • Furzeydown||

    What good is all this power if we can't club you over the head with it?

    Er, I mean, uhhh.... "It's for the childrens!"

  • NoVaNick||

    Its the progtards who have been raising the alarm about teen vaping. Gottleib has been a bit better re vaping than Obama's FDA czar Tom Freiden, who is now caught in the #MeToo trap. I don't care much for flavored vape, but what worries me is that pretty mush everything in vape juice, other than nicotine and water, is a flavoring agent. So-this could be a backdoor way to ban all e-cigarettes.

    I only rarely see other people buying e-cigs at the 7-11, or other places, and still don't see that many vapers compared to smokers, so this hysteria seems to mostly be unfounded.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Not a smoker since 1980, but my wife buys e-ciggies at a local smoke shop. Any time I go in with her (usually evenings or on weekends) the place is basically deserted.

  • Palooka_Joe||

    Simple, propose that any minor using an E-cigarette will be shot.

  • NoVaNick||

    Ottoman emperor Murad IV ordered tobacco users' tongues to be cut out-didn't work.

  • Palooka_Joe||

    Turks can still use tobacco without a tongue.

  • Dillinger||

    solid plan.

  • perlchpr||

    E-cig manufacturers new ads: "IF YOU ARE UNDER 18 AND USE THIS PRODUCT, YOU WILL BE RENDERED IMPOTENT!"

  • Myk||

    Execute parents who won't parent and kids who won't listen. It's an unfortunate trade off but kids need to learn not smoking is hazardous to the government's revenue stream.

  • Griffin3||

    Fuck off, slavers!

  • BYODB||

    I don't see why it's the governments business if I kill myself with cigarettes or a e-cig, it's my business.


    Or...oh wait I forgot healthcare is a right so all things are now considered in terms of public healthcare expenditures.


    Guess they forgot how much money they make off cigarettes? Nah, it's because they don't like the competition and don't have any actual scientific reason to ban vaporizers. It's cutting into the governments 'revenue stream' and they can't have that.


    What is truly insane is that pot is becoming more and more legal, yet it's arguably worse for you than an ecig. It would be amusing if it wasn't so idiotic, and that's before we even start to talk about alcohol.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    For their next trick, government will propose banning cell phones because teens use them for sexting.

  • cravinbob||

    "Ordinary citizens announce epidemic of misuse of word "epidemic".
    There ought to be a law because banning something by law always eliminates the problem that was perceived to be a problem by some high government official who has not seen the real world in decades. "What the fuck is a 'constituent'?" asks 58 term Congressman. "It has a "tit" in it. Ban it! Ban it now for the sake of the children's health, ban the tit!"

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Teens, you need to march to DC and ban the FDA, with extreme prejudice.

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